Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Book of Dahlia

Summary: Meet Dahlia Finger: twenty-nine, depressed, whip-smart, occasionally affable, bracingly honest, resolutely single, and perennially unemployed. She spends her days stoned in front of the TV, watching the same movies repeatedly, like "a form of prayer." But Dahlia's so-called life is upended by an aggressive, inoperable brain tumor.

Stunned and uncomprehending, Dahlia must work toward reluctant emotional reckoning with the aid of a questionable self-help guide. She obsessively revisits the myriad heartbreaks, disappointments, rages, and regrets that comprise the story of her life -- from her parents' haphazard Israeli courtship to her kibbutz conception; from the role of beloved daughter and little sister to that of abandoned, suicidal adolescent; from an affluent childhood in Los Angeles to an aimless existence in the gentrified wilds of Brooklyn; from a girl with "options" to a girl with none -- convinced that cancer struck because she herself is somehow at fault.

Review: Cancer is not usually a humorous topic. The Book of Dahlia by Elsa Albert, however, manages to bring levity to this weighty subject matter.

While some readers may be put off by Albert’s sharp, gallows, humor, it should be noted that the author lost her brother, David, to a brain tumor when he was twenty nine and she was nineteen. Hence, she knows the delicate terrain she’s traversing.

Dahlia Finger is not a saintly, dying, heroine like Little Women's Beth. Rather Dahlia is profane slacker who has been informed that she has a terminal brain tumor. Dahlia copes with this devastating news: “the way stewardesses pantomime emergency protocol: bored, distracted, disconnected, a mask of seriousness and duty over a deep valley of uncertainty and – buried way, way, way down – fear.”

Albert, who dedicates The Book of Dahlia to her late brother, states that she was trying to honor him with it. In my opinion, she has succeeded!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Richest Man in Town

Summary: Secretly, if not overtly, almost everyone in America desires to become rich: to make it big, to enjoy the fruits of the most successful life imaginable. But unfortunately, most of us don't have a clue how to reach these all too elusive goals. Quite simply, there's no definitive road map for getting there, no proven plan, and certainly very little access to those who have become "the richest man in town."

But now W. Randall Jones, the founder of Worth magazine, is about to change all that. He's traveled to one hundred different towns and cities across the country and interviewed the wealthiest resident in each. No, these are not those folks who inherited their wealth, or happen to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Rather, these are the self-made types who, through hard work and ingenuity, found their own individual paths to financial success.

Remarkably, during his research, Jones found that these successful people were not so different from one another. They all shared many of the same traits and followed what the author calls the Twelve Commandments of Wealth: stay hungry (even when you're successful) . . . you really do learn more from failing than you may think . . . absolutely be your own boss, the sooner the better . . . understand that selling is the key to success . . . where you live doesn't matter . . . never retire, and other, more surprising revelations.

Practical, unique, and inspiring, this book lets you peek inside the living rooms of dozens of America's most successful people-and shows how you, too, can become THE RICHEST MAN IN TOWN.

According to The Richest Man In Town by W. Randall Jones, Stephen Bisciotti is the richest man in my hometown. Do you know who is the richest man in your hometown? If you have ever wondered you can probably discover him in Jones’s new book. In addition to listing the local Donald Trumps The Richest Man In Town attempts to answer how they became so successful.

To that end Jones interviews many of the richest men, from both large and small towns, to discern the twelve commandments of wealth:
-- Seek Money for Money’s Sake and Ye Shall Not Find
-- Find Your Perfect Pitch
-- Be Your Own Boss
-- Get Addicted to Ambition
-- Wake Up Early—Be Early
-- Don’t Set Goals – Execute or Get Executed
-- Fail to Succeed
-- Location Doesn’t Matter
-- Moor Yourself to Morals
-- Say Yes To Sales
-- Borrow from the Best – and the Worst
-- Never Retire
Many above the commandments are counter-intuitive and it was interesting to read how taking the proverbial road not taken led to their success. I also enjoyed the vignettes of various wealthy men. For example, I learned that Dell Computer wasn’t Michael Dell’s first business. Rather he started at age twelve by selling stamps on consignment and made $2,000! Not many twelve year olds have that drive or success. The Richest Man In Town is filled with other equally awe-inspiring stories.

As in everything in life, there is a downside to being the richest man in town. For instance, Leroy Landhuis, the richest man in Colorado Springs, confesses, “I have not been successful in my personal life the way I would have liked to be. My marriage wasn’t successful and at times, I have been much too occupied with business.” Such candid admissions, however, are few in far between in The Richest Man In Town.

It is clear that Jones is enamored with his subjects. In fact, he admits, “as hard as I tried to be a totally dispassionate journalistic observer of these big buck creators, I found that a very, difficult, near impossible task.” A little journalistic distant, however, might have led to more insights and made a more balanced view. Still if you are curious as to what it is like to cruise down the yellow brick road of success then The Richest Man In Town provides a front row seat!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mailbox Monday -- July 27th

Thanks to Marcia at The Printed Page I'm participating in my first Mailbox Monday round up. This week I received the following books for review thanks to FSB Associates:

1) Annie's Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg published by Hyperion subject: Memoir

2) Now What? 90 Days to a New Life Direction by Laura Berman Fortgang published by Tarcher subject: Personal Growth

3) I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School by Caroline Taggart published by Reader's Digest subject: Reference

4) My Grammar and I... Or Should That Be Me? How to Speak and Write it Right by Caroline Taggart published by Reader's Digest subject: Reference

5) I Before E (Except After C): Old-School Ways to Remember Stuff by Judy Parkinson published by Reader's Digest subject: Reference

Look for reviews of these great books in the coming weeks!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Good Things Come in Threes!

Yvette at True Crime Book Reviews has nominated me for a fantastic award: The Heartfelt Award.

Do you reach for a cup of cocoa or tea when your relaxing, seeking comfort, sharing a plate of cookies with family and friends? You know the feeling you get when you drink a yummy cup of cocoa, tea, or a hot toddy? That is what the Heartfelt Award is all about, feeling warm inside.

The Rules:
1) Put the logo on your blog/post.
2) Nominate up to 9 blogs which make you feel comfy or warm inside.
3) Be sure to link to your nominees within your post.
4) Let them know that they have been nominated by commenting on their blog.
5) Remember to link to the person from whom you received your award.

Here are my nominees:

1) Between the Bookendz
2) Bobbie's Book Blog
3) Summer and Travel Reading Fun

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama's Blackberry

Summary: When Obama stated that if elected, he would keep his Blackberry, debate echoed through Washington and among the ranks of the Secret Service. What would it be like to have a president who could Twitter, send text messages, and navigate the web with ease? What would it be like to receive a text message from inside the Oval Office and, most importantly, what would it say?

Now, for the first time, We The People are privy to our new leader's epistolary back-and-forths on his wily hand-held device. We're about to discover that his emails (and the replies, from his wife and daughters, Biden, Palen, Rush, Hannity, the new first puppy, and even Bush) are so tuned in to the language of electronic correspondence they come hilariously close to the brink of legibility.

This giftable, imagined glimpse into Obama's beloved Blackberry traverses the mundane and momentous contours of the Commander in Chief's life, from security briefings to spam, basketball practice to domestic bliss, and the panic of oops-I-hit-reply-all, to, of course, the trauma of dealing with the First Mother In Law.

To wit:

BidenMyTime: Hey U, whatcha doin?
BARACKO: M rly busy
BidenMyTime: Right :( Can I lv at 4:45?

Review: Obama’s Blackberry reads like a one hit wonder in literary form. The original premise is funny in the beginning of the book. However, after constant repetition in slightly different versions the concept becomes extremely tiresome.

Obama’s Blackberry is a humorous take on the messages our Commander in Chief receives on his hard fought for Blackberry. Unfortunately, the humor often falls flat or is stale after the fifth re-telling. For instance, Bill Clinton’s texts to Obama begging that Hillary be sent out of town, so that he can party are very funny the first few times. Sadly, this running gag is repeated several more times.

Humor, however, is a matter of personal taste. While Obama’s Blackberry is not my cup of tea, it is very short (137 pages) and may be worth perusing while you are waiting in the doctor’s office.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti

Summary: From failure to fusilli, this deliciously hilarious read tells the story of Giulia Melucci's fizzled romances and the mouth-watering recipes she used to seduce her men, smooth over the lumps, and console herself when the relationships flamed out. From an affectionate alcoholic, to the classic New York City commitment-phobe, to a hipster aged past his sell date, and not one, but two novelists with Peter Pan complexes, Giulia has cooked for them all. She suffers each disappointment with resolute cheer (after a few tears) and a bowl of pastina (recipe included) and has lived to tell the tale so that other women may go out, hopefully with greater success, and if that's not possible, at least have something good to eat. Peppered throughout Giulia's delightful and often poignant remembrances are fond recollections of her mother's cooking, the recipes she learned from her, and many she invented on her own inspired by the men in her life. Readers will howl at Giulia's boyfriend-littered past and swoon over her irresistable culinary creations.

Review: Do Not Read This Book On An Empty Stomach! Now that I have that warning out of the way I will proceed with my review of I Loved I Lost Made Spaghetti: I loved it! On one level Melucci’s tome is an insightful memoir of her romantic entanglements. On another level it is a philosophy of cooking book. In short, it is what you would have if you combined Carrie Bradshaw with Carmela Soprano.

Melucci is a successful, Brooklyn, singleton who is looking for her other half. In wooing her suitors Melucci is a devotee of the “way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” school. Thus, whenever she meets her next potential Mr. Right she serves up exquisite meals such as: Risotto with Intricately Layered Hearts; Salmon with Lemon-Tarragon Butter; Linguine with Friendly Little Fish, Orzo Salad with Feta, and French Lentil Stew.

Unfortunately, for Melucci, her 5 star efforts in the kitchen are enjoyed by: 1) an alcoholic; 2) a commitmentphobe; 3) an aging hipster; 4) a geriatric lunatic; and 5) a user. Melucci, however, does not lay all of the blame at her boyfriends’ feet. Rather she admits that “I had a remarkable ability for turning any picture into the picture I wanted to see: me with a husband. My imagination had the flexibility of a thirteen year-old Chinese gymnast.” She also confesses that “maybe I’m not as ready as I think I am.”

Still I couldn’t help but think when reading about her actions, such as, dropping everything to rendezvous with a new suitor that she might have won him if she hadn’t repeatedly violated The Rules. If you are not familiar with this dating bible it preaches that women must “play hard to get” to bag her man. Ironically, Melucci states that she did have a coaching session from one of The Rules authors, but failed to adhere to the advice. Yes, this philosophy is dated, and sexist, but personally I believe it works. Tellingly, Melucci notes that several of her boyfriends later married other women.

I Loved, I Lost, is also a terrific cookbook. Melucci’s philosophy of cooking is surprisingly straightforward and attainable: “the only true essentials . . . are fine ingredients and a sense of how to use them.” Hence, the recipes are simple and sound tasty. I have even made a few (Linguine with Friendly with Fishes and a Baby Arugula with Avocado Salad). She also adds thoughtful flourishes to her meals like serving hot meals in warm bowls. This is a nice touch and one that I rarely think to do. Lastly, I especially love her commitment to making enjoyable meals even if she’s “only” cooking for one. As she muses, “though I much prefer cooking for two to cooking for one, if one is all I have, I cook for her.” Buon Appetito!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Wishful Drinking

Summary: In Wishful Drinking, Carrie Fisher tells the true and intoxicating story of her life with inimitable wit. Born to celebrity parents, she was picked to play a princess in a little movie called Star Wars when only 19 years old. "But it isn't all sweetness and light sabers."

Alas, aside from a demanding career and her role as a single mother (not to mention the hyperspace hairdo), Carrie also spends her free time battling addiction, weathering the wild ride of manic depression and lounging around various mental institutions. It's an incredible tale - from having Elizabeth Taylor as a stepmother, to marrying (and divorcing) Paul Simon, from having the father of her daughter leave her for a man, to ultimately waking up one morning and finding a friend dead beside her in bed.

Review: Reading Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking is like being in the audience of her one woman show: laugh out funny, but not a comprehensive memoir. After undergoing shock therapy to treat her depression and suffering the resulting memory loss, Fisher decides to tell her story both to reclaim memories and as a cathartic experience. Lucky us! Fisher has a gift in storytelling and doesn't hold much back in the way of secrets -- unlike a lot of Hollywood "tell alls" which tell little and are mainly PR pieces for the named celebrity.

Fisher's skewers various life episodes for our entertainment and hers. I laughed 'til I cried when I read Fisher's hysterical recounting of her family tree (with diagrams!) to explain to her daughter, Billie, who was interested in Elizabeth Taylor's grandson Rhys that "they are related by scandal." Fisher's mother Debbie Reynolds is portrayed as an eccentric (e.g. wanting to smoke pot with Fisher), but loving mother. While Fisher's father, Eddie Fisher, is described more by what he is not: an involved parent or even a mature adult. The remainder of this short tome addresses Fisher's bouts of depression, bipolarism, alcoholism, fame and rollercoaster relationship with Paul Simon. These are not usually funny subjects, but Fisher has a way with "gallows humor."

One note of caution: Fisher uses a fair amount of salty language and frankly describes several adult topics. Still if you are not easily offended and want a humorous, fast, read I highly recommend Wishful Drinking. Better still buy the audio version and let Fisher herself share the story that only she can tell!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Awards! Kreativ Blogger!

This week has been a great one for me because I received my first two awards (Share the Love below) and now Kreative Blogger.
Shellie at Layers of Thought nominated me to receive this terrific award. Thanks!

This is a Meme. If you accept it, you list 7 favorite things and nominate 7 bloggers for the award.

My seven favorite things :
1) Starbucks Lattes;
2) My friends and Family;
3) My two dogs, Maggie and Ashley and my three cats;
4) U.S. Capitol view in ther predawn hours;
5) Ricola Mints;
6) New Books; and
7) London -- a book lover's dream city!

My seven nominated blogs:
1) Bookworm Kristen
2) Yule Time Reading
3) Fiction Does It Better
4) Romance witha Touch of Magic and a Pinch of Humor
5) Book Story
6) I Buried My Nose
7) Reading at the Beach

Awards! Share the Love!

Yvette at True Crime Reviews shared the blog love with this great award. I love True Crime Reviews because without Yvette's wonderful reviews I wouldn't know what true crime to read. I love the genre and Yvette separates the wheat from the chaffe. Thanks so much Yvette!

I nominate the following blogs to receive this award:

Booksie's Blog
Merry Weather
Layers of Thought

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hollywood Car Wash

Summary: Amy Spencer is an accidental celebrity. On Monday, she’s a normal college student in Michigan. By the end of the week, she’s in Hollywood, starring in a TV pilot-- as a regular girl from Michigan. It’s all fun and games until the show gets picked up and Amy learns the terrible price of stardom—to keep the part she didn’t even want at first, she’s going to have to get the “Hollywood Car Wash” to make her more marketable. First, she’ll have to lose twenty pounds. She’ll also need new teeth, blonder hair, and a megastar boyfriend with a big secret. By changing everything from her weight to her hair to her name, Amy slowly learns that the only way to survive in Hollywood is to lose herself.

Based on true Hollywood events and people, this fresh and funny novel about the ins and outs of the Hollywood game will leave the reader wondering-- who is Star?

Review: A Hollywood car wash, according to author Lori Culwell, is the transformation process imposed on women in the entertainment industry. The novel details the hollywood car wash heroine Amy Spencer is pressured to under go including liposuction, rhinoplasty, cosmetic dentistry, and dangerous diet drugs to keep the lead in her hit television series. Nor is the transformation process limited to Amy's physical appearance, but also spills over into her personal life when she is paid to date mega celebrity Brad Rockwell.

For those who haven't heard the rumors, Hollywood Car Wash is whispered to be about Katie Holmes. Culwell denies that the novel is based only on a single person, but rather states that "it is a number of true stories interwoven . . . ." Culwell explains her inspiration came from "the complete nonchalance with which my actress friends were told to lose weight, 'get better looking,' or change something about themselves in order to get or keep a part. This, combined with the downright absurdity of some of the stories about the business I heard and experiences I witnessed first-hand, convinced me that there was a novel in there somewhere."

Regardless of whether Hollywood Car Wash is based on Katie Holmes or not, it reads like an insider's guide to the industry. From the amoral producers and agents to the backstabbing costars Hollywood Car Wash serves up delicious dirt! Culwell's tome is the perfect beach companion!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Full House - But Empty

Summary: Filled with anecdotes, lessons learned, and an inspirational message for everyone, who believes that hard work breeds success, this moving autobiography shares the remarkable story of Angus Munro.

Munro is just three when he suffers from appendicitis and spends several weeks in a Vancouver hospital as his family struggles to survive the Great Depression. After finally arriving home, Munro asks his sister, “Where is Mummy?” and is promptly told his mother doesn’t live there anymore. It is this traumatic event that changes the course of Munro’s life forever. His father is suddenly a single parent while simultaneously turning into Munro’s mentor and hero. He teaches Munro the motto, “Always do the right thing,” while raising his children in an environment that is at the very least hectic, and more often completely chaotic.

Through a potpourri of chronological and heartfelt tales, Munro
reveals how he learned to view incidents in life in terms of responsibility, recognition, personal conduct, and consideration for others. Despite dropping out of school at a young age, Munro perseveres, eventually attaining professional success.

Munro’s memoir is a wonderful tribute to his father’s legacy and the greatest lesson of all—Whatever you do, follow through.

Review: A Full House --But Empty vividly portrays the author's Depression era childhood and its lifelong impact on him. While Munro's childhood was challenging, to say the least, this memoir does not read like a Canadian Angela's Ashes. Rather along with the difficult times the author also shares many lighter moments. For example, Munro describes a haircut that so displeased him that he screamed "bloody murder" and hid under the table until the offending barber left the premises.

Munro aptly expresses his childood assesment of his family's circumstances in the following exchange:

Cecil (childhood friend/housemate) to Munro: "Gus, we are a very poor family. This is a serious Depression. So many people are out of work, because there are no jobs. Everybody is broke and on relief."

Munro: "I still believe we have a great family and a happy life. We go to the movies every week. We have plenty of food on our table. We have gardens, apples, clothing, and shoes."

Munro's memoir does not end, however, with his childhood, but rather continues with his career adventures in the oil and healthcare fields. A seventh grade school dropout, nevertheless, Munro successfully scales the professional ladder due to his intellect and hardy work ethic.

Munro's keen insights into people and predictments make this memoir both thoughtful and entertaining.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Body Broken

Summary: In the tradition of William Styron’s tour de force Darkness Visible, The Body Broken is a gorgeously told and intensely moving account of one woman’s extraordinary odyssey into a life of chronic pain–and of the unyielding resilience of the human spirit.

At age nineteen, Lynne Greenberg narrowly survived a devastating car crash. When her broken neck healed–or so everyone thought–her recovery was hailed as a medical miracle and she returned to normal life. Years later, she seemed to have it all: a loving husband, two wonderful children, a peaceful home, and a richly satisfying job as a tenured poetry professor. Then, one morning, this blissful fa├žade shattered–the pain in her neck returned in the most vicious way. A life with physical agony ensued.

Greenberg realized that she had been living for years on borrowed time. As she and her family navigated an increasingly complicated web of doctors and specialists, Greenberg taught herself to fight her own battles–against a medical system ill-equipped to handle patients with chronic pain, and against the emotional pitfalls of a newly restricted life. Drawing on her family’s support, her own indomitable spirit, and an intense connection to the poetry she taught, Greenberg found the strength to return to a productive and satisfying–if irrevocably changed–life. This deeply personal saga takes us to the heart of a family’s struggle to survive a crisis, and shows us how, at the most profound levels, such an odyssey affects a patient’s marriage, the ability to parent, family, work, and friendships.

The Body Broken is a powerful, lyrical story of one woman’s remarkable determination and breathtaking courage, as she puts mind over matter in the struggle to reclaim her life.

Review: Twenty two years after Lynne Greenberg thought she had walked away unscathed from the neck fracture she sustained at age nineteen, her ordeal came roaring back when she learned that her neck was still broken. According to Greenberg, "in the breath of a moment, I could see that my life had fractured in two as clearly as had my fractured neck."

The Body Broken details Greenberg's coming to terms with a serious debilitating condition. She doesn't pull punches as to the depths of her pain. During the summer of 2006, while in London researching for a literary criticism book, Greenberg suddenly experienced an intense headache that "has never gone away since." Greenberg's memoir explores her descent into the abyss of chronic pain, drug dependence, and despair.

Along with her story Greenberg, an English professor, weaves in pertinent poetry quotes such as this one from Mark Strand's Precious Little

". . . and nothing turns out

As you thought, then what is the difference

Between blindness lost and blindness regained."

The ending is not a "feel good one" at least in the sense of being healed. Rather it is the triumph of learning to live a full life in the face of a constant challenge (chronic pain). As Greenberg poignantly explains "in November 2007, one year and five months after my life changed, I got out of bed. Such a simple act in so many ways, so ordinary, it required just a little shift of my thinking the morning it happened. I think I'll take Lil to school today and have coffee at Starbucks with my friends, I thought. In other ways, it was a momentous shift."

The Body Broken is a compelling read, especially for anyone who has ever experienced a serious illness or been a caretaker to someone with a chronic illness.